‘When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country. He can rest in peace. I believe I have made that effort and that is, therefore, why I will sleep for the eternity.’
Nelson Mandela 1918-2013
As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest social justice campaigners of our time, it is perhaps an opportunity to reflect upon what made him such an inspirational leader to our world and what we can all learn from his life.
It is hard to imagine how one man could achieve so much in such a short period of time. As an activist member of the African National Congress (ANC) he was jailed in 1964 for attempting to overthrow the government. After 27 years in prison, where he was physically and psychologically abused, he was released in 1990 and went on to serve for 5 years as president of South Africa. He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1993, then turned his ‘retirement’ years into mediating conflicts around the world towards genuine world peace.
Reading the articles written by people who knew or had met Nelson Mandela we are left with a wealth of accolades about this great man. He was described as having an easy manner, a man who loved life, loved children, enjoyed conversation and debate, was willing to engage with people. He is described as the spiritual and moral leader of post-apartheid South Africa, the man who helped avoid civil war and racial violence that could have easily marred the end of racial division in the country. As such he was described as the greatest healer of our time, he healed relationships between peoples and races and cultures. How did he achieve all this? He was described as charismatic, humble and with a great dignity.
As a leader he was certainly charismatic but also he was also transformational. Charisma is a quality that is hard to define, many great leaders as described as charismatic but it is more than just having a vision for change, but also a commitment to take personal risks to achieve that vision, to be sensitive to the needs of those following and engage in sometimes unconventional behaviour. As a transformational leader, Nelson Mandela had that ability to look at old problems in new ways then to excite and inspire people to follow that vision. Normally both of these leadership qualities are only effective in periods of cultural crisis or upheaval. Great leaders like Winston Churchill were not effective in times of peace, consolidation and rebuilding. But Nelson Mandela somehow managed to do both.
Perhaps the most unique quality that Nelson Mandela demonstrated was his ability to forgive, an inspirational ability to forgive those who had oppressed him personally and oppressed his nation. ”Men of peace must not think about retribution or recriminations. Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace.” Through such forgiveness the world was given hope for a different future, not for a utopia but one where all peoples have an opportunity to better their lives regardless of the colour of their skin or where they were born. It is that hope that leads so many Australians to work against the inequities that trap so many of our neighbours in poverty. It is that hope that leads so many asylum seekers to risk their lives trying to get to Australia. It is that hope that leads communities to rebuild after devastating disasters like the earthquakes and typhoons in the Philippines.
In his Human Rights Day address today in Perth, The Hon Fred Chaney AO remarked that he is full of hope for the reconciliation process with Australia’s First Peoples. After being actively involved in the process of recognition for Indigenous Australians and seeing many of the failures and success over the last 40 years, he feels that we have come a long way and matured as a nation in this discussion. Our country in now full of people who want to be part of the solution towards reconciliation. “Through respect for each other we can build relationships that will make a difference.” If the life of Nelson Mandela taught us anything, hopefully it is that message.
Now the God of perseverance and encouragement give you all the same purpose, following the example of Christ Jesus, so that you may together give glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one heart. Accept one another, then, for the sake of God’s glory, as Christ accepted you